More than 20 years since his assassination, the legendary fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud who battled the Soviets and the Taliban has become something of an Afghan icon. The achievements of the “Lion of Panjshir”, named for his home valley north of Kabul, has earned him a devoted following in war-weary Afghanistan. Massoud was killed aged 47 in 2001 by a team of Al-Qaeda bombers posing as journalists. His death came just two days before the September 11 attacks that would accelerate the US-led invasion to oust the Taliban, who had granted Al-Qaeda safe haven. Massoud has subsequentially been elevated to the rank of Afghan “national hero” by presidential edict. Massoud gained prominence for his military valour, through which he kept Panjshir free even during the bloody Soviet occupation (1979-89) and under the Taliban regime (1996-2001).
“Every country has a national hero, and Massoud is known worldwide as our national hero, that is why you see his pictures all over the country,” said Shamsullah Jawid, a former mujahideen fighter who now is a Panjshir prosecutor.
American historian Michael Barry, an Afghanistan specialist who lived with Massoud and wrote a biography, De l’islamisme à la liberté, about him, said his subject’s legacy comes from his struggle against two of the 20th century’s most dictatorial regimes.
“He missed Nazism but he fought against the Soviet Union and he fought against what Al-Qaeda came to represent,” Barry said.
“With time, the various shifting political strategies that the real Massoud engaged in have become blurred and forgotten behind the iconic image of someone who gave his life for the defence of his country.”Viewed by the West as someone who represented moderate Islam, Massoud was in April 2001 invited to Paris and then the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Massoud’s legend owes a good amount to a few photographic portraits that capture the aura of the Afghan “lion” and are instantly recognisable, rather like those of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.
Massoud’s only son, Ahmad, said his father’s vision for Afghanistan was a “peaceful country with good relations between all ethnicity and neighbouring countries”.Massoud was the first to approach the Taliban to seek peace, noted Ahmad, who now runs a foundation bearing his father’s name and entire helpless Afghanistan is looking at Massoud’s successor with high hopes that he will follow his father legacy.
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